December 14, 2000
Move Over Santa—It’s the Guy on the Big Flying Dreidel
If ever there was a case against "judging a book by its cover," consider Jerome Coopersmith's children's book "A Chanukah Fable For Christmas."
On the surface, this 1969 novelty, its confusing title notwithstanding, appears toothless enough. After all, it's illustrated by the beloved Syd Hoff. But crack it open and you'll find what could be an assimilation-phobic parent's worst nightmare.
The story goes as follows: Lamenting the lack of Christmas color in his home and the absence of a "fat man in red," Murray -- our Jewish boy protagonist with the blond Aryan looks -- is visited in the night by what the author describes as "a big husky guy with a brown soldier hat and a patch on his eye," perched atop a giant flying dreidel (!).
Evidently intended as Chanukah incarnate, the nameless man -- who resembles something of a cross between Uncle Fester and Moshe Dayan -- takes Murray on a wild flight of fancy all over the globe to observe various holiday customs taking place, in hopes of instilling the boy with cultural pride. But instead, by the tale's end, Murray concludes that the spirit of Christmas is for everyone, even little Jewish boys like himself -- and runs out to play in the snow with his non-Jewish friends. Evidently, Big Daddy Chanukah's lesson is entirely wasted on the kid.
What kind of pride a young Jewish child is supposed to derive from Coopersmith's mixed messages is anybody's guess. Big flying dreidel aside, the book makes few allusions to Chanukah (let alone Judaism), and the single illustration addressing Chanukah depicts the Festival of Lights as some kind of funereal event attended by lonely, dour-looking adults.
Nevertheless, any grownup interested in getting a hearty chuckle out of this doomed holiday reader will be hard-pressed to find a copy at the local library. For some reason, "Chanukah Fable" never really caught on.